Bewkes: Era Of ‘Media Mogul’ Is Over

Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes At Paley Center IC 2010

After trying to determine which seat was the power seat on stage at The Paley Center’s International Council conference, the NYT’s David Carr asked Jeff Bewkes, Time (NYSE: TWX) Warner’s chairman and CEO, about where power resides in the media business today. Bewkes answer was that as companies like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) create services, they become “the stars.”

“The old era of the media mogul were about powerful personalities, they created stars and that fueled their power,” Bewkes said. “It’s now big companies that are the stars.”

Bewkes said the central issue facing media companies is whether they are holding back free choice by restricting where the old content producers can put their creations. “The old companies — Warner Brothers, Fox — are sharing a world with new companies like Google and Apple,” Bewkes said. “These new companies have 75 percent share or more of the areas they’re in. Whoever has the most users has the most volume, and they can do the most innovation. By being their first, they can set the tone for everyone else.”

Carr shot back, saying, “I don’t buy it. Apple’s lead in phones seems unstoppable. But then Google’s coming in with Android and they’re selling a lot. Being number one in the tech space is important, but they can be knocked out just like any other company.”

Bewkes: “I’m glad he said it — that’s right.”

Carr also asked Bewkes about balancing VOD, DVD sales and theatrical releases. “We don’t worry about antagonizing Netflix,” Bewkes said. “We think Netflix’s streaming has a great interface. But what you don’t want to do is undervalue the content, that means it has to be released at the right window of time. It wouldn’t make sense if we released a movie in the film and put out a film for subscription at the same time. Why would you go to the theater? At home, you’re paying for convenience, and it depends on whether you’re getting that home entertainment from a DVD or directly through your TV. The industry has been pretty aggressive and innovative about VOD. If everyone here wants to go to a theater, that can’t exist unless there is a reasonable infrastructure. There has to be an economic model to pay for it.”

Bewkes isn’t worried about antagonizing Steve Jobs either. The content companies have the leverage over tech companies and they should use it, he said, noting that Apple now allows iPad subscriptions for People magazine. He also noted that by Christmas, HBO subscribers will be able to access shows across broadband devices via HBO Go service for no extra charge.

“If Steve Jobs or someone else wants to get in the way of these subscriptions, it wouldn’t be good,” Bewkes said. “But it’s not going to happen. That’s because of the existence of broadband. If a tablet maker doesn’t want to have app support for our content, they will degrade the value of their product. And that’s why we have leverage. All the tablet companies, even Apple in the case of People, support our apps. If they don’t give the full range of what a publisher wants to provide, they will hear about it from consumers.”

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